La vita bisogna metterla
in gioco per i grandi ideali

Papa Francesco

11 marzo 2010 - Rassegna stampa

E.U. is urged to seize its chance for global role; Foreign policy chief says turf wars could derail ‘once in a generation’ bid

By Stephen Castle – International Herald Tribune – 11 mar –  The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, appealed Wednesday to her critics and those waging internal turf wars over the creation of a new European diplomatic corps not to let infighting wreck a ‘‘once in a generation’’ chance to increase Europe’s global influence.

After three months of continent-wide carping about Ms. Ashton’s lack of foreign policy experience, she took a hard-headed stance in an appearance before the European Parliament, warning starkly that rising economic powerhouses like China and India could push Europe aside if it bickers and dithers any longer.‘‘If we pull together, we can safeguard our interests,’’ she said. ‘‘If not, others will make decisions for us.’’‘‘Some prefer to minimize perceived losses rather than maximize collective gains,’’ Ms. Ashton told legislators, conceding that her task in creating the new diplomatic corps was proving ‘‘messy and complicated.’’
“We should not lower our ambitions but rather give ourselves the means to realize them,’’ she added. Infighting over who should control the new European diplomatic service — combined with criticism of Ms. Ashton’s own performance in her first 100 days in office — have overshadowed efforts to build a stronger global presence. That was a main objective of the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December after eight years of debate and negotiation within the European Union.
Ms. Ashton used her appearance before the Parliament in Strasbourg to bat back personal criticism and to appeal for a way forward to bring into existence the European External Action Service, which will have thousands of employees. For the most part she was received politely. Hannes Swoboda, a Social Democrat from Austria, said he was sorry that some E.U. foreign ministers were making Ms. Ashton’s life difficult, ‘‘perhaps for reasons of jealousy.’’ A center-right member from Italy, Mario Mauro, said it was important that Ms. Ashton was ‘‘not intimidated by institutional disputes.
’’But policy makers are now openly questioning whether it is Ms. Ashton’s job that is impossible — no matter who holds it.
‘‘At the heart of the problem,’’ said Antonio Missiroli, director of studies at the European Policy Center, ‘‘lies the fact that she has multiple functions, multiple loyalties and multiple expectations. By definition she cannot keep everyone happy, and it will be very hard being caught at the center of the cross-fire of different demands.’’
At a seminar in Brussels last month, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden voiced doubts about creation of the foreign policy post, noting that it combined roles previously undertaken by three people working full time.
With little foreign policy experience, Ms. Ashton, a former leader of Britain’s unelected House of Lords who then served as the E.U.’s trade negotiator, has been criticized publicly by some E.U. ministers for her lack of visibility.
In response to French criticism of her decision to attend the inauguration of Ukraine’s new president, rather than an informal meeting of E.U. defense ministers, Ms. Ashton opted for irony Wednesday, saying that she had ‘‘yet to learn how to time travel.’’
More serious in the long-term is the battle over the diplomatic corps. With the Lisbon Treaty silent on much of the detail, the E.U.’s institutions and member states have to work out who should control the new body. In Brussels, where careers in the bureaucracy are made and lost over control of budget lines, that has led to open feuding.
Ms. Ashton’s situation is awkward, in part, because she is a representative of the bloc’s 27 member states and is also a vice president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, where she has her office.
Until now, the commission has had control of most E.U. foreign policy spending, including development aid and money given to nations seeking to join. The setting of foreign policy, meanwhile, remains the preserve of the E.U.’s national governments.
In trying to bring the two elements together, Ms. Ashton has encountered a rearguard action from the commission, which wants to retain significant control over development aid and over spending in countries neighboring the E.U.
That has angered big member states, which were also infuriated by the appointment of a new E.U. ambassador to Washington, João Vale de Almeida of Portugal, who was a close aide to the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. The appointment was pushed through under old rules that gave the commission sole power to appoint overseas representatives.
Mr. Barroso was a close ally of Ms. Ashton and supported her surprise nomination for the foreign policy post last year.
Last week the foreign ministers of Britain and Sweden wrote a letter calling for the member states to ‘‘play a full part right from the beginning’’ of the European diplomatic service and to ‘‘put aside the inter-institutional rivalries of the past.’’
Supporters of Ms. Ashton argue that she has begun to stand up to the commission and say she will be better equipped to do so following her appointment of Poul Skytte Christoffersen, a well regarded Danish official and veteran of the E.U. circuit, as an adviser.
On Wednesday Ms. Ashton said the construction of the External Action Service meant that ‘‘people have to adjust their mental maps and institutions have to find their new place.’’
The scale of the task ahead was underscored when members of the European Parliament made clear on Wednesday that they also want their say. Though the Lisbon Treaty does not give them power over E.U. foreign policy, it does extend their competence over the E.U.’s budget and staffing rules. Both will have to be amended to set up the External Action Service.
Several members of Parliament sided with the European Commission during the debate Wednesday, including Elmar Brok, a prominent German from the center-right. He said the E.U. had been ‘‘rarely successful’’ when it built integration on cooperation among the member states without the European Commission. The European Parliament would, he added, want to exert its ‘‘rights in terms of budgetary scrutiny.’’
The muddle means that it is highly unlikely that the European authorities will meet the original deadline of the end of April to make final the structure of the diplomatic corps.